Three misconceptions about innovation

Updated: Jan 18

Misconception #1: innovation is a goal

“We need to innovate more” is often heard in boardrooms around the world.

One doesn’t need to hold an MBA degree to know that successful innovation is good for business. Just look at the effect of ClickShare on Barco’s profitability and stock price.

Yet, setting innovation as a goal is as senseless as putting the horse in front of the carriage.

Innovation cannot be enforced. Sending (post corona) a group of smart people to an offsite to think out of the box and come up with innovative ideas is good for the local economy and moral of the troops, but will seldom result in meaningful outcomes.

Innovation enforces itself when the incumbent way of solving a problem or providing a service is no longer adequate. One gets inspired while hopelessly trying to get a taxi in the pouring rain. You cannot plan for it.

Misconception #2: innovation is a strike of luck

While some innovations are accidental (for example the microwave) the majority are not.

To solve the problem of getting a taxi in the rain, quickly and for a fair price, one had to

come up with a different business model than the established best practice of a taxi


Reed Hastings likes to tell the story that the Netflix business was triggered by his frustration

of a 40$ penalty for returning the DVD ‘Appolo 13’ late to the Blockbuster DVD rental shop.

Recognizing problems that can be solved in a better way is not about luck, it’s about staying curious and marvel about why we do things in a certain way?.

Misconception #3: innovation is about new technology

Some innovations are about technology or are the technology itself. For example the

marvelous Compact Disk technology by Philips and Sony. Yet, some of the most successful

innovations are often a creative combination of existing technologies. It's about seeing technology as an enabler, not as a goal by itself.

Netflix started in 1997 by offering a DVD mail service. It was only 10 years later that Netflix

started its streaming services. The progress in technology was an enabler for Netflix to

provide the same service faster.

The iPhone itself, one of the most influential innovations of this century, is about a smart

combination of technologies that is genius in simplicity and functionality.

Want to know more?

Yoav Nir, the author of this post, gives keynotes and workshops on this topic.

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